Oliver Lee Bateman takes a look back at the days when heavy was acceptable in professional wrestling.
You’re Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell and you bled for your fame. Used your head to hammer nails into a 2×4 for your fame. Ate bucketloads of ham and grits for your fame. And, to top it all off, you were blessed with bigness.
It was a blessing and a curse, wasn’t it? When Rey Misterio, Jr. performs a dropkick, nobody cares. But when a man who stands 5’9″ and weighs between 400 and 500 pounds does it, it’s a miraculous event.
Why we feel this way about the accomplishments of the freakishly big is beyond me. Peter King waxing poetic about barrel-shaped 295-pound Bills DT Kyle Williams’ golf handicap? Wrestling smarks praising the moonsault finishers of Hugh Morrus and Vader? Orlando Magic PF Glen “Big Baby” Davis getting mainstream love because he’s a fat guy who plays professional basketball with the grace and agility of a slightly less fat guy? Or UCLA Bruins C Josh Smith, who is even taller and heavier, faring likewise?
It’s impossible to give an objective answer to that, but this I can state with absolute certainty: blessed with bigness or not, you wouldn’t cut the mustard today, not in Vince McMahon’s federation. You had your chance in the early 80s, when Vince was signing up everyone who worked for the competition, but you refused to wait in line to cut a promo. And really, do you look like a waiter? No, you look like a man who is waited on, or at least a man who has plates brought to and removed from his table at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
More importantly, you don’t look like Vince’s kind of guy. Not so much even back then, although at least in those days he gave big, ugly men like Kamala, King Kong Bundy, and John “Earthquake” Tenta the opportunity to lose to “Hulk” Hogan. Like Dusty Rhodes, you’re from the old, sloppy-fat school of southern wrestlers. Granted, Vince doesn’t mind placating the rednecks, but he prefers to serve them one particular kind of character over and over again: ”Bad*ss” (in that the wrestler swears a lot and pretends to drink beer), peroxide-blonde mullet, jean shorts, wallet chain, juiced-up and totally smooth physique, theme music by some Insane Clown Posse-sounding group, and maybe a ball cap or a flannel shirt if he’s feeling kind of creative. In other words, he treats the rednecks to an endless barrage of “cool new 90s guys” as developed for the 2000s by a man whose vantage point is circa 1984.
When I started watching you in the late 1980s, you looked terrible. Morbidly obese, slow, one foot in the grave. When you passed away from a heart attack at the age of 45, I had no idea how important you had been. But as I began the process of transforming my parents’ money into a huge VHS collection, first acquiring AWA stuff and later old WWWF matches, I quickly realized that you were a fantastic performer. Back before you and André the Giant both landed on death’s doorstep, you put on a hell of a show. Your promos were hilarious. You rarely lost by anything other than disqualification or count-out, and never by three-count in the center of the ring.
Would I eventually have come to remember you this way if you were still competing, if you had “broken in” long after I had quit paying attention to pro wrestling? Heck, I’m not even sure if I’m remembering you the right way now. When I read what people have written about you, it’s as if they’re talking about another man.